Sucia: Deconstructing Class and Gender Policing

Cleanliness is how society regulates the poor and disenfranchised, i.e., LGBTQIA folk and single/non-monogamous women. It is how people of my socio-economic status pass. In my house I had that one nice pair of shoes, our church shoes, a nice dress that when pressed looked pristine. But mostly we showered; tons and tons of showers kept me looking less poor.

I always knew that my mom did not like someone when she would say: parece que no baña a sus niños. It was because this person had the audacity to let her poverty show. She was careless to not care for how her kids were presented to the general public. Being poor is bad, but looking poor is criminal. There is an association to cleanliness and ones ability to appear clean. That's valuable in my working-poor context; to this day, our past history with poverty is something that my parents will not talk about. We got out and there is no point in looking back.

Another insult that cuts deep for women in my context is to be called a cochina. To be a cochina is to be a slut or a loose woman. A straight definition of this word is pig. Because pigs are often thought of as dirty, using cochina to describe a woman insinuates she is dirty and lacks purity.

I remember when nudity in front of the women in my family became a thing. My little sister did it. She made it normal and acceptable to be naked and to be okay with female nudity (in front of relatives). I have often wondered why that was the case. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she's the youngest and has been a "girl's-girl" from birth. However, when she first started doing it, my mom called her a cochina. Not too intensely -- because I think my mom knew that there was something bad about rejecting the nudity of your daughters -- but definitely something that needed to be put in that category until she became comfortable with it.

There is something so off putting about how my social class as a child and a woman's ability to be comfortable in her own body and sexuality was considered a threat to "proper" Latina girlhood. My entire life, I spent it trying to not be a sucia, both literally by distancing myself from my poverty but also metaphorically by protecting my purity and my reputation.

As an adult, I have rejected the heavily imprinted class and gender policing that I grew up around. I LOVE not showering. I also know that now I have less at stake, as someone who is no longer poor. I KNOW THIS. However, I do this because I am undoing a lot of harm that was done to my poor brown female body.

Because reclaiming who I am to myself is something I work hard at every day, and it includes not showering and sitting with my odors. I am doing theological reflections with those odors and doing my most intentional moves toward loving myself with the very odors I was suppose to distance myself from. I also call myself a sucia. I put my reputation at risk, a lot. I am public about my sexual history and my desires, because to shame women for doing what men have always done is to suppress something that is natural in humanity only because someone said that what I was born with between my legs makes me less human.

I see dirty kids all the time when I visit my motherland, but also in inner city public schools. And I see them. I also see sex workers, and I uphold what they do as a legitimate means of making money. I see them. To dismiss the things that are supposed to make us ashamed of who some of us are is to turn a blind eye so as to protect some semblance of power and sense of belonging. That is why so much goes unregulated and so much is pushed aside as unimportant, in state laws and national press, because we have dismissed sucixs. But when we stop hiding it or rejecting it, maybe we can work toward ending things like homelessness.

To be a sucia, to me, is to live with my eyes wide open. To see that the world is not all pristine and clean, and that the solution is not in forcing people to look clean but first stop stigmatizing dirty.